The Benefits of Deep Breathing: 3 Exercises to Help Reduce Stress

Ana Marie Schick Jan 05, 2023

Benefits of deep breathing exercises

Everyone suffers from stress occasionally. Work pressures, money, and relationship struggles can leave us with a feeling of anxiety and discomfort which is often hard to shake off.

So how do you combat stress? In some circumstances, you can address its external causes. For example, if your tax return is stressing you out, you should file it as soon as you can to get the weight off your mind. But the feeling of stress can also be held at bay by making lifestyle changes such as increased exercise and a healthier diet.

One of the simplest ways to reduce stress is deep breathing. Unlike other lifestyle changes, deep breathing can be done anytime and anywhere. Here is our guide to reducing stress, focusing on the benefits of deep breathing and three easy exercises to get you started.

What is Deep Breathing?

Deep breathing, otherwise known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing, is a form of breathing that is achieved by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located under the lungs. In contrast, shallow breathing - something you're probably doing right now - happens without conscious effort. That’s not to say shallow breathing or “chest breathing” is always a bad thing. After all, life would be very difficult if we had to concentrate in order to breathe.

But this low-effort type of breathing has its limitations. When we take shallow breaths, we don’t completely fill our lungs with air, and the reduced oxygen intake can make us feel more anxious and stressed.

Although it might feel strange to engage your lower abdomen while breathing, taking deep, diaphragm-focused breaths maximizes the amount of oxygen getting into your bloodstream, which produces important benefits, including relaxation, reduced blood pressure, and heart rate. [1]

Benefits of Deep Breathing Exercises

It’s difficult to practice deep breathing throughout the day, but setting aside time to concentrate on your air intake provides significant health benefits.

Deep breathing provides many amazing health benefits. One of the greatest benefits is reduced blood pressure, which in turn lower the risk of diseases like stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure. [2] Research has shown that just 30 seconds of deep breathing can reduce systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and pulse rate.

Another positive effect of regular deep breathing is increased heart rate variability, which is a sign of good overall heart health. [3] A recent study found that regular deep breathing significantly improves heart rate variability, which also boost survival rates in heart disease patients suffering from diabetes.

The mental health benefits complement the physiological benefits of deep breathing. Using the diaphragm to breathe can help you shake off the “fight or flight” response to stress and trigger the body’s natural relaxation response, making you feel calmer. Deep breathing before sleep and activating this relaxation response will help improve the quality of your rest, as stress regularly leads to difficulty sleeping.

basic meditation techniques

Deep Breathing Examples

Although it can take a little time to get the hang of it, practicing deep breathing is not difficult. There are a few different ways to get the diaphragm working and ensure you’re taking in plenty of oxygen.

A 10 minute meditation session will lower your heart rate and reduce the acute feeling of stress. Try incorporating one of the breathing exercises below into your wellness routine and take note of how you feel afterward.

Read More: Yoga Nidra for Sleep

Basic Technique

Deep breathing involves drawing your shoulders back and breathing in slowly through the nose, drawing in enough air so that your belly rises, before exhaling slowly through the mouth. This can feel a little uncomfortable at first, as we’re used to keeping our bellies flat when we want to control our posture. It’s much easier to do when sitting or even lying down.

4-7-8 Breathing

Many people find it helpful to time their inhalations and exhalations to achieve precise control over their deep breathing. 4-7-8 breathing, which is inspired by a yoga practice called pranayama, consists of the following steps:

  1. Inhale through your nose and count to four seconds, filling your lungs
  2. Hold your breath for seven seconds
  3. Exhale through your mouth over eight seconds

Counting while breathing adds another layer of defense against stress, as it forces your mind to focus on the time passing rather than on any racing thoughts you may be experiencing.

Rib-Stretch Breathing

By wrapping your arms around your chest while breathing, it becomes easier to feel the flow of air through your lungs. Rib-stretch breathing involves practicing the basic technique while your arms are crossed over your chest with your palms flat against your sides.

Meditation Exercises

Where the mind goes, the body will follow. Prioritizing your mental well-being through meditation enables your body to find and maintain relaxation more accessible. New to meditation and breathing exercises? Below are a few of our breather exercises to help you relax.

Conclusion

We often feel stressed when things outside of our control seem to be going wrong. But the human body is equipped with some powerful tools for combating stress. Carrying out simple deep breathing exercises can restore a feeling of calm while keeping your heart healthy and protecting your immune system.

Listen to our one-minute deep breathing exercise guide to learn how to perform deep breathing anytime, anywhere.

Citations

[1] Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises & Techniques | Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from Cleveland Clinic website. View Resource

[2] MORI, H., YAMAMOTO, H., KUWASHIMA, M., SAITO, S., UKAI, H., HIRAO, K., … UMEMURA, S. (2005). How Does Deep Breathing Affect Office Blood Pressure and Pulse Rate? Hypertension Research, 28(6), 499–504. View Study

[3] Kulur, A. B., Haleagrahara, N., Adhikary, P., & Jeganathan, P. S. (2009). Effect of diaphragmatic breathing on heart rate variability in ischemic heart disease with diabetes. Arquivos brasileiros de cardiologia, 92(6), 423–463. View Study

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